Levels of social web engagement

I have been reading Li and Bernhoff’s Groundswell just recently, and I came across an interesting division of levels of interaction with the social web. I’ll type it out here for your edification.

  • Creators
    • Publish a blog
    • Publish your own web pages
    • Upload video you created
    • Upload audio/music you created
    • Write articles or stories and publish them
  • Critics
    • Post ratings/reviews of products or services
    • Comment on someone else’s blog
    • Contribute to online forums
    • Contribute to/edit articles in a wiki
  • Collectors
    • Use RSS feeds
    • Add tags to websites or photos
    • ‘Vote’ for websites online
  • Joiners
    • Maintain profile on a social networking site
    • Visit social networking sites
  • Spectators
    • Read blogs
    • Watch video from other users
    • Listen to podcasts
    • Read online forums
    • Read consumer ratings/reviews
  • Inactives
    • None of these activities

Whilst we may want to pick away at the odd thing on the list, I think it is broadly right in terms of the degrees of participation. The key thing is to understand both what it is that these groups want out of their web ‘experience’ and making sure the tools you use can meet that need. The other thing to consider might be how, if at all, you can encourage people to move up into the next category: to try and get some inactives spectating; and some critics creating.

I suppose it goes without saying, really, but if you were to visualise the list above in terms of the numbers within each group, it would be a pyramid, with lots of inactives and spectators but very few creators at the top. Perhaps this is how it should be, else we really would get drowned in the resultant noise.

What do you make of these levels of participation, and how could they be used in planning a social media project?

Civil servants and the social web

I spent an interesting morning last Friday at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, attending a meeting of ‘civil servant bloggers’ – not many of whom, it turned out, actually blogged – to discuss the recent guidelines for online participation. It was organised through the Power of Information Taskforce.

I found it a peculiar experience, not really being sure of what the purpose of the workshop was, nor what would happen to the results, whatever they may have been.

The guidelines themselves are short and sweet, and whilst in many ways their brevity is a strength, they do (out of necessity) simplify an issue which is actually pretty complicated when you think about it. For instance, what do we actually mean when we talk about online participation? Also, how could civil servants participate online? There are several choices:

  • They can do so internally or externally
  • They can use social media to communicate or collaborate
  • They can use their own platform, or get involved with someone else’s
  • They can do so officially, or personally

I doubt whether the guidelines will encourage too many civil servants to start blogging, which is probably a good thing, if we are being honest. Most have neither the neither the time nor the inclination to start their own blogs, and it is a truth universally recognised that there is nothing worse than blogs that run out of steam, or enthusiasm.

Instead, I think there needs to be a focus on participating online in other people’s spaces. This is a quick, easy way for officials to engage without the need for the continuous content generation that comes with setting up a new platform. It’s also something that could develop over time:

  1. Listen to what’s being said – set up simple RSS feeds and subscribe to searches on key terms to monitor the online conversation
  2. Get involved – where appropriate, leave responses where they are required, or acknowledge and link to such conversations from the traditional web presence
  3. Create content – if it is necessary or useful, start a blog to provide a way of providing information and views that work better on a standalone site

To do this though, officials need the resources to be able to do it: time, skills and tools. The recent work at DIUS goes to show just what is possible when roles are created to focus on digital participation issues. Training is required to show civil servants how to do stuff – but it needs to be directly focused on what people in specific jobs need, whether press officers, policy officials, or whoever. Rather than training, ‘mentoring’ or ‘coaching’ is probably the better term for this. In terms of tools, people need to be able to access sites, whether blogs, forums or social networks, without having to request to IT to lift the block on each one. They also need up-to-date browsers which can handle Flash or AJAX type content, and which render pages properly. Far, far too many public institutions use IE6 as their most up to date browser – it isn’t good enough.

Ingrid was at the event too, and posted her thoughts here.